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Cassowary

Updated on August 14, 2009

Cassowary is a large rainforest bird of the family Casuariidae. It is a genus of large flightless birds related to the emu and more distantly to the ostrich. They can be found in North Eastern Australia, New Guinea, the Aru Islands, and Ceram.

Although cassowaries cannot fly, they can run very fast. Using their head combs and wing quills to push aside obstacles, they can run about 30 miles (50 km) per hour through thick jungles, jumping over objects 6 feet in high. They are also good swimmers. When cornered, they fight fiercely and can kill a man by jumping at him feet first and tearing with their sharp claws.

The call of the cassowary is described as deep and booming and may be heard at a considerable distance. It is distinguished by a large yellow and black casque (a bony protuberance which extends above the front of the head, protecting the head), which, in combination with its powerful legs, enables it to move rapidly through dense vegetation.

Its eggs are the largest of any Australian bird, handsome pea-green with finely sculptured shells, three to six in a clutch, and, as is common among the large flightless birds, the male broods the eggs.

Photography by Paul IJsendoorn
Photography by Paul IJsendoorn

Habitat

Cassowaries are native to the dense forests and jungle swamplands of northern Australia and nearby islands. They are about 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall and have strong legs and very small wings, which are usually tucked beneath the body plumage and can run through dense jungle at speeds of 30 miles an hour.

The most widespread species is found at most altitudes in New Guinea between 3,000 m and sea level.

The cassowary does not build a nest; the light-green eggs are laid during July and August on a rough clearing scratched on the forest floor. The diet of the cassowary consists mainly soft fruit, berries, seeds and other vegetable matter.

Physical Characteristics

The four known species, of which three are in New Guinea, all share a distinctive bony, helmet-like crown (casque) extending above the front of the head. The head and neck are bare and brilliantly colored in red, blue, and yellow. There are conspicuous loose folds of skin, called wattles, on the front of the neck hanging from their chins which may be a brilliant blue with a bright red patch.

The plumage of adult cassowaries is black and consists of hard, thin, bristle-like feathers. The tips of each wing have three to five long, bare, needle-like quills. As in the emu. is similar in size and form to the main feather.

It has huge hoof-like three-toed feet with their large claws are the principal weapon for fighting.

Area marked in red where Cassowaries are found in Australia.
Area marked in red where Cassowaries are found in Australia.

Enemy

These birds have been hunted for food by people in New Guinea and New Britain and the young are sometimes captured and reared as food. The thigh bones have long been used to make spearheads and knives, and many other parts of the bird are used by the people for decoration and other purposes.

Role of the male Cassowary

The adult male, which grows to about 1.5m long and tall, is black; the immatures are brown. The wings are rudimentary and carry bare, quill-like feathers— another feature suiting it to the dense vegetation it inhabits. The head and neck are bare, coloured blue, black and red, with red wattles.

Adults of all species have a black plumage, but the down of the young is striped along the length of the body with alternate rows of black and pale brown. The powerful legs are used for defence and the casque and hair-like plumage enable these birds to move at high speed through dense scrub which would block the progress of other animals. No nest is built, and the greenish eggs are deposited in a depression scratched in the forest floor. The male incubates and rears the young.

References

  • The New Junior World Encyclopedia, Volume 4, 1977, Bay Books. Page 281.
  • The New International Illustrated Encyclopaedia, Volume 2, 1954. Page 58.
  • Merit Students Encyclopedia, Volume 4, P.F. Collier Inc, 1979. Page 227.
  • Australian Encyclopedia, Collins Publishers, 1984. Page 119.

Comments

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    • profile image

      joe 6 years ago

      wow... cassowary's are amazing creatures!

    • CMHypno profile image

      CMHypno 8 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Great Hub on Cassowaries, Darkside. I have been privileged to see them in the wild in Queensland, and they are truly magnificent birds. When they post about what to do if you run into a cassowary on a walking track in Mission Beach, I was never sure whether I wanted to see one that close up or not! As I can't run that fast, I think I'm just glad that my sightings were from a safe distance!

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